Top 6 Hawks in South Carolina (2023 + Photos)




Hawks in South Carolina Congaree National Park

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Hawks in South Carolina: South Carolina is home to a diverse array of hawks, captivating birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts alike. From the iconic Red-tailed Hawk to the graceful Cooper’s Hawk, the state offers a habitat rich in food sources and suitable nesting areas. Hawks can be observed across South Carolina’s varied landscapes, including coastal regions, forests, and wetlands.

Lists of Hawks in South Carolina:

  1. Red-tailed Hawk – The Red-tailed Hawk is the most common hawk species in South Carolina and can be found throughout the state, from the Blue Ridge Mountains to coastal areas. Try looking for them in places like Congaree National Park.

  2. Red-shouldered Hawk – These hawks are fairly common in South Carolina and prefer wetland habitats. They can often be found in places like the Francis Beidler Forest.

  3. Cooper’s Hawk – Cooper’s Hawks can be found in both rural and suburban areas with wooded habitats across the state. Try looking for them in areas like the Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge.

  4. Northern Harrier – The Northern Harrier can often be seen in open habitats like marshes and grasslands. The ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge is a good location for sighting these birds.

  5. Sharp-shinned Hawk – Sharp-shinned Hawks are typically found in the state’s forests and wooded areas. Try spotting them in the Sumter National Forest.

  6. Broad-winged Hawk – These hawks are common during the migration season and can be seen in various parts of the state, including the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area. They are less commonly seen outside of the migration season.

Red-Tailed Hawk

Red Tailed Hawk
Red Tailed Hawk 2
Scientific NameButeo jamaicensis
Length 45–65 cm (18–26 in)
Wingspan110–141 cm (3 ft 7 in – 4 ft 8 in)
Weight690 to 1,600 g (1.5 to 3.5 lb)

The Red-Tailed Hawk is a bird of prey that is commonly found across North America. This adaptable raptor is known for its brick-red tail, which is most noticeable in adults from above or underneath. The diet of the Red-Tailed Hawk is very diverse, including small mammals like mice and squirrels, as well as birds and reptiles.

This hawk is often seen perched on poles or soaring in wide circles high above fields, forests, and highways. Its habitat is extremely varied, ranging from desert and scrublands to forests and tropical rainforests. Its call, a raspy, screaming kee-eeeee-arr, is often used in movies to represent any bird of prey.

Red-Shouldered Hawk

Red Shouldered Hawk
Red Shouldered Hawk 2
Scientific NameButeo lineatus
Length15 to 23 in
Wingspan35 to 50 in
Weight1.21 lb- 1.5 lb

The Red-Shouldered Hawk is a medium-sized bird of prey, belonging to the Buteo genus, prevalent in North America. It is characterized by its reddish-brown shoulder patches, from which it derives its name. Other distinctive features include its banded tail and translucent crescents near the wingtips that are visible during flight.

Red-Shouldered Hawks typically inhabit mixed woodlands, often near rivers and swamps, where they hunt for a variety of prey, including small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and occasionally other birds. Unlike some other hawk species, they are quite vocal, emitting a distinctive, repetitive whistle that often gives away their presence. These hawks build nests high in deciduous trees where they usually lay 2 to 4 eggs. The pairs are monogamous, often maintaining their bond for many years and defending their territories fiercely.

Cooper’s Hawk

Coopers Hawk
Coopers Hawk 2
Scientific NameAccipiter cooperii
Length35 to 46 cm (14 to 18 in) /Female: 42 to 50 cm (17 to 20 in)
Wingspan 62 to 99 cm (24 to 39 in)
WeightMale: 280 g (9.9 oz) in 48/ Female: 473 g (1.043 lb)

Cooper’s Hawk is a medium-sized bird of prey in the Accipiter genus, native to the North American continent. It’s named after the American naturalist William Cooper, and distinguished by its slate-gray back, red-barred chest, and rounded tail with broad white terminal band. It is similar in appearance to the smaller Sharp-shinned Hawk, but can be differentiated by its larger size and rounded tail.

Inhabiting various types of woodland and forests, Cooper’s Hawks are agile predators known for their skill at chasing birds through trees, their primary prey being small to medium-sized birds. They also feed on small mammals and, less commonly, reptiles. They’re noted for their explosive flight pattern, consisting of a few rapid wingbeats followed by a short glide. Cooper’s Hawks nest in trees, and both parents share duties of incubating the eggs and raising the young. Their call is a distinctive, repetitive ‘cak-cak-cak’, often heard during courtship or when disturbed.

Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier
Northern Harrier 2
Scientific NameCircus hudsonius
Length41–52 cm (16–20 in)
Wingspan 97–122 cm (38–48 in)
WeightMale 10 to 26 ounces (280 to 730 g)
Female: 11 to 30 ounces (310 to 850 g)

The Northern Harrier is a bird of prey that belongs to the Circinae subfamily and stands out due to its distinctively owl-like facial disk, slender body, and long tail. This species exhibits a low and slow flying pattern when hunting, often skimming just above the ground of open fields and marshes. The males are predominantly gray, while the females and young are brown with streaks of white.

Northern Harriers primarily feed on small mammals and birds. Unique among hawks, these birds possess an owl-like trait of using auditory cues as well as visual ones to locate and catch prey. They’re also known for their polygynous breeding system, where a male may have up to five mates at once, each nesting in different locations within his territory.

Sharp-Shinned Hawk

Sharp Shinned Hawk
Sharp Shinned Hawk 2
Scientific NameAccipiter striatus
Length23 – 30 cm
Wingspan17 to 23 in
Weight82 – 120 g

The Sharp-shinned Hawk is the smallest member of the Accipiter genus found in North America. Noted for its slender body and short, rounded wings, this hawk is characterized by its blue-gray back and barred orange or reddish underparts. The name “sharp-shinned” refers to the bird’s thin, pencil-like lower leg.

Sharp-shinned Hawks inhabit forests and woodlands, where they exhibit agility and stealth in hunting small birds, their primary food source, although they occasionally consume rodents and insects. They’re known for their impressive flight pattern involving quick, successive wingbeats followed by short glides. When it comes to nesting, they favor coniferous trees and both parents participate in raising their young. Their call, often heard during courtship or territory disputes, is a high-pitched, repetitive ‘kik-kik-kik’.

Broad-Winged Hawk

Broad Winged Hawk
Broad Winged Hawk 2
Scientific NameButeo platypterus
Length13 to 17 in
Wingspan29 to 39 in
Weight9.3 to 19.8 oz

The Broad-winged Hawk is a medium-sized bird of prey, belonging to the Buteo genus. It’s primarily found throughout the eastern United States and southern Canada, migrating long distances to Central and South America for the winter. The bird is named for its relatively broad wings, and it displays a characteristic white band on the tail, which is bordered by two darker bands.

Broad-winged Hawks inhabit deciduous forests and woodlands, where they primarily feed on small mammals, amphibians, insects, and occasionally birds. They are known for their distinctive soaring flight during migration, often traveling in large groups known as “kettles.” These hawks are monogamous and build nests high in trees where the female usually lays 1 to 3 eggs. Their call is a piercing, two-parted whistle, heard most frequently during the breeding season.

Where to Spot Hawks in South Carolina 

The prime location for spotting the widest range of hawks in South Carolina is the Congaree National Park. The park’s diverse ecosystem serves as a thriving habitat for various species of hawks.

Other top places to spot hawks in South Carolina include:

  1. Hunting Island State Park – This park boasts a unique semi-tropical environment with dense maritime forest and serene beaches, providing a prime habitat for Red-tailed Hawks.

  2. Caesars Head State Park – Every fall, thousands of hawks migrate through this park, making it a fantastic spot for viewing these majestic birds. The overlook at Caesars Head provides a spectacular vantage point for hawk spotting, with the Sharp-shinned Hawks being a frequent sight.

  3. Santee National Wildlife Refuge – Set within the expansive Santee Cooper Country, this refuge is rich in diverse habitats that attract Northern Harriers, especially during the winter.

  4. ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge – A mixture of hardwood forests, farmland, and tidal marshes, this refuge is ideal for Broad-winged Hawks.

  5. Table Rock State Park – Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, this park’s high elevations and diverse fauna attract various hawk species, including the Cooper’s Hawk.

  6. Cheraw State Park – This park’s expansive pine forests and serene lake make it a prime hunting ground for Sharp-shinned Hawks.

  7. Francis Beidler Forest – Comprising the world’s largest virgin cypress-tupelo swamp forest, this area provides an ideal environment for the Red-shouldered Hawk.

South Carolina’s varied landscapes, including forests, coastal areas, and open plains, make the state a great habitat for different species of hawks. Congaree National Park, with its towering trees and rich biodiversity, is a popular nesting and hunting ground. Caesars Head State Park, on the other hand, is a prime spot to watch the annual migration of hawks, especially during the fall season.

South Carolina is undoubtedly a fascinating place for hawk enthusiasts. However, if you wish to expand your birdwatching journey, consider exploring the nearby states too. Our comprehensive guides on the beautiful hawks in North Carolina, the diverse hawks in Georgia, and the splendid hawks in Tennessee would be of great help. Each of these states boasts its unique habitats and opportunities to observe these majestic raptors.

Facts about Hawks in South Carolina 

  1. Swallow-tailed Kite Sightings: While not technically a hawk, the Swallow-tailed Kite is a spectacular bird of prey often spotted in South Carolina. It has a distinctive, deeply forked tail that sets it apart from other raptors. These birds are mostly seen in the Lowcountry region during the summer.

  2. Red-shouldered Hawk Adaptability: In South Carolina, the Red-shouldered Hawk is quite adaptable and is commonly found in both rural and suburban areas. They have a diverse diet that includes small mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians, which contributes to their adaptability.

  3. Cooper’s Hawk Urbanization: Cooper’s Hawks, once primarily woodland birds, have increasingly adapted to suburban and urban living, including in cities across South Carolina. They’ve become proficient at hunting in these densely populated areas, typically targeting small birds.

  4. Broad-winged Hawk Migration: In the fall, South Carolina sees the migration of Broad-winged Hawks. Caesar’s Head State Park is known as an excellent location for observing this event, with the park even hosting a Hawk Watch program each year during peak migration season.

  5. The Center for Birds of Prey: Located in Awendaw, South Carolina, this center is dedicated to the conservation of birds of prey, including hawks. They provide medical care for injured, sick, and orphaned birds of prey and serve as an educational resource for understanding and appreciating these magnificent creatures.

FAQs About Hawks in South Carolina 

What is the most common hawk in South Carolina?

The Red-tailed Hawk is the most common hawk in South Carolina. This raptor can be identified by its broad, rounded wings dark brown plumage and short, wide tail. Its characteristic red tail, from which its name derives, is often a clear signal of its presence. South Carolina’s diverse habitats, including forests, fields, and marshes, are ideal for this versatile predator.

What is the biggest hawk in South Carolina?

The largest hawk found in South Carolina is the Ferruginous Hawk. These birds have broad wings, a robust body, and a broad gray, rust-colored, or white tail. Not a typical resident, the Ferruginous Hawk is more commonly seen during migration periods and is admired for its striking size and majesty.

What is the smallest hawk in South Carolina?

The smallest hawk species in South Carolina is the Sharp-shinned Hawk. It’s characterized by a slim body, short rounded wings, and a long square-ended tail with a narrow white tip. Despite its diminutive size, it’s a fierce hunter, often darting through forests to catch its prey.

What do hawks eat in South Carolina?

Hawks in South Carolina have a varied diet that mainly includes small mammals like mice, squirrels, and rabbits. They also prey on smaller birds and reptiles. Some species, like the Red-tailed Hawk, are known to occasionally feed on carrion. Their feeding habits largely depend on their size and the availability of prey.

What other birds of prey are in South Carolina?

Aside from hawks, South Carolina is home to a range of other birds of prey including eagles, falcons, and owls. Prominent species include the Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, and Great Horned Owl. These raptors, like hawks, play a vital role in maintaining the state’s ecological balance. Including common hawks like:
broad winged hawk scientific name Buteo platypterus

  • northern goshawk scientific name Accipiter gentilis
  • red tailed hawk scientific name Buteo jamaicensis
  • sharp shinned hawk scientific name Accipiter striatus
  • rough legged hawk scientific name Buteo lagopus
  • cooper’s hawk scientific name Accipiter cooperii 
  • northern harrier scientific name Circus hudsonius
  • red shouldered hawk scientific

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